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tv   Crossfire  CNN  September 23, 2014 3:30pm-4:01pm PDT

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pamela brown is here in new york as well. she has more on this part of the story. pamela what are you learning? >> reporter: wolf, learning that u.s. officials have known al qaeda operatives were in syria plotting attacks since at least the spring but more recent intelligence suggested they were in the end game of planning an attack, possibly against the u.s., using western recruits. and u.s. officials say they had to act fast to disrupt them. the u.s. officials say one of the goals of american-led air strikes in syria was to eliminate the command and control structures of a terrorist group called khorasan. in terms of the khorasan group, withcy a network of seasoned al qaeda veterans. hich is a netwo al qaeda veterans. >> reporter: senior u.s. officials tell cnn in july, security at names was increased after intelligence suggested
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khorasan was creating easily concealed bombs for western recruits to smuggle onto airplanes. what makes the threat of khorasan's attack so worrying is their ties to al qaeda's master bomb maker in yemen, ibraham al-asiri r. >> the concern is that al-asiri trained a number of apprentices in these techniques and these apprentices, some migrated to syria. the fear is that some have joined this group, khorasan and helping them develop these new technique. >> reporter: al say searry is thought to have built the failed underwear bomb brought aboard this plane from amsterdam to detroit and behind the plot to blow up planes using explosives in printer cartridges. now, as the initial smoke clears in syria, the question remains did the air strikes stop khorasan's plot? >> what's not clear yet is whether the leadership has been taken out, whether the bombmakers have been taken out and whether the operatives they were control outing into these plots were taken out. if all those people are still around, it's possible that they could still carry through with
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this plot. >> reporter: u.s. officials say they are still assessing the results of the strike, trying to figure out if they were able to take out the key leaders in the khorasan group. wolf? >> pamela brown reporting for us. pamela, thanks very, very much. first, a surprise u.s. strike on an al qaeda spinoff in syria said to have been plotting attacks on the united states. now there's word department of homeland security in washington is warning of possible revenge attacks here in the united states by what they described as lone extremists. let's get some more with cnn counterterrorism analyst, the former cia official, phillip mudd. what do you make of this fear now that local, state, federal law enforcement agencies across the country have been told there could be revenge attacks by these lone wolves? i wouldn't call it fear, wolf, i would call it prudent planning. if you have seen what we saw out of australia the past week, an effort by extremists to capture
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somebody for beheading, not in iraq or syria but australia, we have seen the british security service raise its threat level, seen the fbi talk about 100-plus people going over for fighting in syria and iraq, i think its owes only prudent for the fbi and others to say in the wake of these attacks, better be careful about what we are going to see here in the united states. >> when you hear u.s. officials, phillip, and you have been on the inside, cia, elsewhere in the government, hear them say an attack was probably imminent, what does that mean exactly from a security point of view? >> they better have some pretty darn good intelligence, because you don't use that word "imminent," without having something from the inside of the khorasan group that subjects they are nearing execution stage for something like a weapon against a cargo aircraft, a passenger aircraft, something like an operative in the united states to attack a passenger rail car, for example. that tells me they are not just talking to the american public about sort of shady intelligence
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that suggests planning is under way. they are talking about pretty specific intelligence that points directly to a threat to western europe, the united states. >> and all of a sudden, we are hearing about this great threat that khorasan, the khorasan group, as it's called, an al qaeda spinoff, is posing to the united states. until a few days ago, most people never heard of khorasan, but all of a sudden, the u.s. is launching t ining tomahawk crui mills -- missiles going near aleppo. what do you make of this assumption? >> no the what is going on in private government circles. you remember, as was said, there was a warning based on intelligence new ways for al qaeda to use electronic devices like phones to get into aircraft. this is based on intelligence, i suspect that of that bombmaker, syria out of yemen, same bombmaker, by the way, creative enough to build that underwear bomb that almost went off over detroit. that was four or five years ago.
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what i take out of this is that the u.s. intelligence community has been following the al qaeda element, khorasan and syria for some time. they have now got to talk about it to the u.s. population because now, we ha rk, strikes president say why are we in there? not only isis about you a very small element of al qaeda, looking like the al qaeda i faced five, ten years ago, that's targeting europe and the united states. >> may have sanctuary in syria now and the u.s. is trying to destroy that sanctuary together with these arab partners. phillip mudd, thanks very much for joining us. just ahead, how long will the u.s.-led air war against isis last? we are about to go behind the scenes and tell you what's going on. also, going live to iraq, not far from the latest air strikes. much more of the breaking news coming up right here in at situation room. [ female announcer ] we help make secure financial tomorrows a reality
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we are following the breaking news, air strikes on isis and al qaeda groups inside syria carried out by the u.s. and five arab allies. senior international correspondent, ben wedeman, joining us, nearby in northern iraq, near the autonomous kurdish region, in the middle of what's going on. what are you seeing, ben? what he is at aftermath of these strikes that have been going on, first of all, in iraq, now expand nothing syria? >> reporter: well, what we're hearing here in irbil, wolf, is very positive reaction to that series of strikes in syria. keeping in mind, of course, that this american-led campaign against isis or the islamic state began here in iraq in
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august. now, there have been about 190 u.s. strikes on isis targets in iraq in addition to several french strikes over the weekend. and certainly, many kurdish officials we have spoken to have said that they would like to see an intensification of air strikes on isis targets because, of course, in some areas, kurdish forces and iraqi army forces have regained territory from isis, but they are still perilously close to this city, irbil in the north, and baghdad in the south. and so there's still a lot of need in the opinion of many people here for this offensive against isis to intensify in iraq as well. wolf? >> ben wedeman on the scene for us in northern iraq in irbil. thanks very much. dig a little deeper now, joining us, three guests, retired u.s. army colonel, derek harvey,
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douglas olivett, the former national security council irrakt director for both presidents bush and obama, and our cnn military analyst, retired army lieutenant, general mark hurt ling. the pentagon called this a sustainable campaign. what exactly does that mean? how long could this last? >> wolf, as we saw this begin last night r, i think you will e action by the coalition forces, particularly the next few days, continued strike. this wasn't a one-night affair. they say sustainable, they mean that the bombing is going to continue. there will be other actions, follow-they could strike targets. and we should prepare for it to continue on a very long time. >> well, douglas olivett, you know, a lot of concern out there that the u.s. could be dragged into some sort of quagmire in
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syria and once again in iraq. what do you think? >> the odds aren't high, we are maintaining our red line and the iraqis' red line, no american boots on the ground that said, we have a good plan, we have here a plan that could work, you but there's no such thing as a military plan that absolutely will work and we do need to be cautious, you never know how a war is going to take you. >> colonel har virk the air strikes stopped moves toward baghdad but isis is taking over smaller towns not far from the iraqi capital, overpowering iraqi forces, even though the u.s. has launched almost 200 air strikes in iraq. what does that say to you about the effectiveness of air power? >> well, the air power has not really been unleashed in iraq.
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200 air strikes doesn't compare to the beginning of the [ inaudible ] fighting amongst people, amongst a population in these cities is to the islamic state's advantage. and the iraqi security forces and the peshmerga still have a very long ways to go to be prepared to take advantage of the air strikes. >> all right. i want everybody to stand by. we want to dig deeper. we are going to go behind the scenes of these air strikes in syria, how are they being coordinated? the u.s. five arab al like what are the challenges? much more of the breaking news coming up right here in "the situation room." don't compromise.great one,i ok, how about 10 gigs of data to share, unlimited talk and text, and you can choose from 2 to 10 lines. wow, sounds like a great deal. so i'm getting exactly what i want, then? appears so. now, um, i'm not too sure what to do with my arms right now 'cause this is when i usually start throwing things. oh, that's terrifying at&t's best-ever pricing. 2-10 lines, 10 gigs of truly
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we are following the breaking news, air strikes on isis and an al qaeda offshoot inside syria carried out by the united states and five arab allies. we are back with retired army colonel derek harvey, douglas olivett, former national security council, iraq director for presidents bush and obama and our cnn military analyst, retired u.s. army lieutenant general mark hertling. general hertling, take us beh d behind-the-scen behind-the-scenbehind the scenes, how do you coordinate strikes like this in syria when you got a syrian air defense system not exactly friendly to what's going on? >> the perfect question to ask, wolf. any time you're building a coalition, it is extremely difficult, no matter what type of conflict it is. and this dates back through the history of war. as soldiers, we study that,
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because it's hard to glom a group of forces together to get certain kind of forces going after certain kind of targets. i think that's what bill may be able to address this morning during the brief, right countries going against the right targets. that in and of itself is tough, but just the exercise of the operation, not only the strike force, but the tanker forces, the intelligence gathering, the jamming forces, all of that comes together, too. >> it's politically very significant but militarily it could be more complicated trying to coordinate it even though all of these five air forces are u.s. trained. those air pilots trained, i suspect, most of them if not all of them in the united states. right, general? >> well, that's exactly right, wolf. that's the power, truthfully of what goes on in peace time with not only the training of other forces but the exercises together. i'm sure every one of those air forces have at one time or another actually conducted
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exercises with the u.s. air force. it's relatively easy to come together, but extremely difficult. and that's the tactical and operational part as you just mentioned. the strategic part of getting the government diplomacy work and actually getting people to sign up, especially in these circumstances, where you have muslim countries against an extremist muslim group is extremely difficult. >> what about selecting targets, douglas, how difficult is that without u.s. or friendly forces really on -- there's a free syrian army, but they're not that significant in many of these areas. how difficult is it to find targets, legitimate targets and avoid civilian casualties? >> well, in this opening round i suspect it's relatively easy. as we've seen from the footage that's been released, they struck large buildings where we know that isis has either command and control centers or training centers or logistic sites. if they were in a big building two weeks ago, they're probably still in a big building now and that building didn't move in the
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intervening weeks. as we go into successive phases and move past the low-hanging fruit of big, obvious buildings then it will become more difficult. >> colonel harvey, when they're picking these kinds of targets in syria, how do you make sure that these isis elements, especially their commanders, don't go into these heavily populated areas and a lot of innocent civilians will wind up dead if the u.s. and these coalition partners launch these air strikes? >> well, wolf, in point of fact i think except for the khorason group, they weren't in those buildings. they had seen this coming and they had prepared. this is a group that's going to be amongst the population. it takes advantage of its knowledge of the social cultural environment and it's going to be tough to rout. that's why intelligence will be
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really important as we go forward. >> was there a risk, general hertling, when the u.s. here at the united nations, the u.s. ambassador to the u.n., samantha power, actually notified the syrian ambassador, the iranian ambassador that the u.s. and the friendly countries were about to launch these air strikes, was there a risk that that word could spread and that isis itself might find out about that? >> i don't think so, wolf. i think certainly there was dismay on the part of both the syrian ambassador and the iranian ambassador, but i think they also likely expected it. and i don't think they had that close of contact with this sunni muslim extremist group. this is an organization that both of them want to see damaged and hurt on the battlefield as well. so i think whereas they might have expressed surprise that we were actually going into sovereign syrian territory, they were also probably quite pleased that it was happening as well.
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>> do you think there will be, douglas, revenge attacks by these groups that were targeted in syria, these al qaeda offshoots, if you will? >> i can't imagine that's really going to change their decision calculus. these groups live to attack the united states, live to attack the west. if they had the capability to do it, they'd be doing it. in fact we're told that's exactly why we struck this group is they were planning to do it. i can't imagine this is going to significantly increase the odds of the attack. they want to attack the united states. whether they have that capability or not, we're not quite certain. >> all right, guys, thanks very much. good decision. just ahead, we're here live at the united nations. tomorrow is a critical day. president obama and war on isis will be in the spotlight. stand by, we'll have a little preview. >> fellow leaders -- he trains. he's psyched. ready for the knockout? you don't know "aarp." he's staying in shape by keeping his brain healthy and focused with aarp's staying sharp. with online mind sharpening exercises
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a very busy critical day ahead of tomorrow's major events going on right here at the united nations. with the u.s.-led war against isis now underway, president obama will address the u.n. general assembly in the morning trying to rally international support for his efforts to degrade and ultimately destroy the terror group. he'll also chair a special meeting of the united nations security council, just for the second time. he'll urge members to back a resolution to crack down on foreign fighters. if approved, it will oblige countries to prosecute citizens who go to join isis forces. it's believed there are 15,000 foreigners, mostly westerners, who are currently fighting for isis, including maybe 100 americans in both iraq and syria. president obama will not seek a formal resolution authorizing the use of force in syria. syria has a very close ally, that would be russia, and russia has veto power at the u.n.
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security council. we will certainly have complete coverage for all of you tomorrow, including my interview with the egyptian foreign minister. what role will his country play in the efforts to stop the isis onslaught. that's it for me. thanks for watching. the news continues next on cnn. the department of homeland security telling americans to be on heightened alert for lone wolf attacks after air strikes on syria. plus an american intelligence official says the air strikes disrupted an imminent massive terror attack from a group ready to blow up flights with explosive clothing and toothpaste tubes. an american journalist kidnapped in syria, what do they want? his parents pleading for help tonight. let's go outfront. good evening, ev

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